Dysphagia (i.e., difficulty swallowing) can occur across one’s life span and affects a person’s quality of life. Those with dysphagia often receive less enjoyment from eating and or drinking. Some with dysphagia may require lifestyle changes and families may experience increased caregiver burden. Dysphagia can be distressing for both clients and their loved ones.
Some common causes of Dysphagia in adults include medical conditions such as neurological diseases (e.g. stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia), head and neck cancers (including treatment side-effects from radiotherapy), or general weakness from severe medical events.
A person with swallowing impairments may present with any of the following signs and symptoms:
• Pocketing of food in the cheek
• Food or liquid remaining in the mouth after swallowing
• Food and liquid spilling out of the mouth
• Inability to eat specific types of food (such as those that are too hard to chew)
• Extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow
• Choking/throat clearing during or after eating and/or drinking
• Wet or gurgly sounding voice when eating or drinking;
• Sensation of food getting stuck in the throat
• Inability to initiate a swallow
• Difficulty coordinating breathing and swallowing
• Shortness of breath while eating or drinking
• Loss of weight and dehydration
• Recurrent chest infections
It is important to consider signs and symptoms observed in conjunction with other clinical indicators rather than relying on a single sign or symptom. Speech and Language Therapists with appropriate training and competence will be able to diagnose oropharyngeal dysphagia and if needed advise you on the necessary management options.
Without intervention, those with oropharyngeal dysphagia may be at risk of malnutrition, dehydration, recurrent chest infections, choking and compromised general health. Morbidity related to dysphagia is also a major concern in the immune-compromised with multiple co morbidities. If you are concerned and are experiencing signs and symptoms of dysphagia, please speak to your health professional today.
Author: M Dharshini, Speech Therapist